Honorable Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Chief Ministers, Secretary Chatterjee, Dr Rajesh Gopal of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, Official delegations from the Tiger Range Countries, Representatives of global conservation NGOs and members of the Indian Civil Society, Officers of the elite Indian Forest Services, colleagues from the World Bank:
It’s a privilege to be with you today to inaugurate the International Conference of the Global Tiger Recovery Program.
We all know, the world is facing many concurrent stresses. It is recovering from a global financial crisis. Unprecedented political changes are taking place in the Middle East and, in the past months, major natural disasters have hit countries like Haiti, Chile, Pakistan and, now, Japan.
Although we are overwhelmed by real time news on these issues, we should not forget that the world’s biodiversity is also facing major stresses including habitat loss, air and water contamination, and climate change.
Economic growth pressures on our planet have resulted in unprecedented extinction of species: one in eight bird species, one in four mammals, and one in three amphibians are threatened. And yet, biodiversity is critical to the integrity of ecosystems and to the ecological processes that support human beings.
The decrease in the number of tigers in the wild, now under 3,500, is an emblematic reminder of the stresses on our biodiversity today.
Wild tigers have occupied a very special place in South Asian culture and the world over. Images of tigers have been found dating back 6,000 years and the tiger is still strongly resonant in our culture today: A recent survey found that the tiger is the World's Favorite Animal. Animal Planet, who conducted the survey in over 73 countries, said that “we can relate to the tiger because its fierce and commanding on the outside but noble and discerning on the inside”.
Tigers are also part of our collective unconscious, figuring out prominently in mythology as well as current coins, and flags.
In Japan it is emblematic of the samurai warriors representing courage and also vision, improvement and change. In China, it’s the King of the Mountains breaking through thorns to climb to the top of the mountain. It reminds us of the impossible, of triumphs, the beauty of freedom.
In South Asia, tigers are associated with strength, passion and sensuality, beauty and speed, cruelty and wrath. And the tiger is the National Animal of India. It symbolizes the power, strength, elegance, alertness, intelligence and endurance of the nation.
Last November the Global Tiger Summit was held in St Petersburg, where 13 Heads of State signed the Declaration on Tiger Conservation.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam came together to provide the political and financial support to the Global Tiger Recovery Program with actions for the next 12 years.
Today, I bring the message from World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, that we are committed to the implementation of the first year of this program here in New Delhi -4 months after the St Petersburg Summit. He hopes this workshop will set the stage for a successful GTRP implementation.
What is different about this initiative? While the number of tigers was reduced by half in the last decade, the decline would have been worse without the effort of existing programs, in particular initiatives spearheaded by NGOs, including the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The goal adopted at St. Petersburg - to double the population of wild tigers by 2022 - can only be achieved through the scaling up of successful approaches that have been time tested over the past decade. The Global Tiger Recovery Program innovations include:
• Empowerment. For the first time, the Program’s goal is to empower those that are at the front lines of policy and implementation in each country.
• Accountability and Transparency. The 13 tiger range countries, along with NGOs and donors will meet annually to take stock of actions and the accountability process will be open and transparent, and accessible to civil society.
• Ownership. The national action plans that will be discussed in this conference were developed by each country from a holistic menu of actions in consultation with the best international experts. The Global Tiger Recovery Program has applied this customized approach with the benefit of best practices identified across the 13 tiger-range countries.
Implementation is now the focus. To achieve this, alignment of incentives is essential. On the positive side, foresters need to be trained, well paid and professionalized; on the negative side poachers need to be penalized. For the first time, Interpol is part of the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime, integrated with other enforcement agencies. This is recognition that poaching has to be treated as a regional issue.
Bringing civil society and all stakeholders is also essential for success. I have seen first hand the passion that exists in South Asia for the tiger. Outstanding individuals have dedicated their lives to the protection and preservation of the tiger. They have passed this on to their children and have created civil society organizations to leverage their deep knowledge. Many of you are here today, from the 13 countries that are part of the GTRP.
NGOs have been vital in piloting approaches to tiger conservation, in educating policymakers and the public about the importance of tiger conservation.
In India, CSOs working on the tiger have inspired me personally. They had the awareness many years ago of the gravity of tiger extinction and worked tirelessly and selflessly many years before this initiative came of age.
Implementation can’t succeed in a top down structure. It needs the commitment and energy of all stakeholders. It needs institutions that are open to communities, with the right culture and motivated front line foresters that can be part of finding solutions as the challenges emerge.
Indian park managers, for example, have come up with best practices in implementation which can be used by other countries. Park rangers and forest guards are central to the success of GTRP; we need a public service that is transparent and interactive with all stakeholders, playing an integrator role, and CSOs that are involved in supporting the implementation of national plans, in identifying successful approaches that can be scaled up and playing a key role in accountability.
I hope this conference is successful. In grappling with the difficult trade-offs of implementation and in prioritizing the most important interventions for each of the 13 countries here today; in having an honest conversation about the real issues, which is essential for the success of this effort, and in aligning all partners together behind a common program for the first year of the Global Tiger Recovery Program so that we will look back at this conference one day as an important milestone to the doubling of the wild tiger population by 2022.